South Florida English.

JC has linked the Graun’s story in a comment on a nine-year-old post, but I thought it was worth featuring, so here’s Phillip M. Carter’s account at The Conversation — he’s the guy who led the study being reported on:

“We got down from the car and went inside.”

“I made the line to pay for groceries.”

“He made a party to celebrate his son’s birthday.”

These phrases might sound off to the ears of most English-speaking Americans. In Miami, however, they’ve become part of the local parlance. According to my recently published research, these expressions – along with a host of others – form part of a new dialect taking shape in South Florida.

This language variety came about through sustained contact between Spanish and English speakers, particularly when speakers translated directly from Spanish. […]

After a discussion of borrowed words and language contact, he continues:

Fast forward to today, where a similar form of language contact involving Spanish and English has been going on in Miami since the end of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. In the years following the revolution, hundreds of thousands of Cubans left the island nation for South Florida, setting the stage for what would become one of the most important linguistic convergences in all of the Americas.

Today, the vast majority of the population is bilingual. In 2010, more than 65% of the population of Miami-Dade County identified as Hispanic or Latina/o, and in the large municipalities of Doral and Hialeah, the figure is 80% and 95%, respectively. Of course, identifying as Latina/o is not synonymous with speaking Spanish, and language loss has occurred among second- and third-generation Cuban Americans. But the point is that there is a lot of Spanish – and a lot of English – being spoken in Miami.

Among this mix are bilinguals. Some are more proficient in Spanish, and others are more skilled English speakers. Together, they navigate the sociolinguistic landscape of South Florida in complex ways, knowing when and with whom to use which language – and when it’s OK to mix them. […]

As a part of my ongoing research with students and colleagues on the way English is spoken in Miami, I conducted a study with linguist Kristen D’Allessandro Merii to document Spanish-origin calques in the English spoken in South Florida. We found several types of loan translations.

There were “literal lexical calques,” a direct, word-for-word translation. For example, we found people to use expressions such as “get down from the car” instead of “get out of the car.” This is based on the Spanish phrase “bajar del carro,” which translates, for speakers outside of Miami, as “get out of the car.” But “bajar” means “to get down,” so it makes sense that many Miamians think of “exiting” a car in terms of “getting down” and not “getting out.” Locals often say “married with,” as in “Alex got married with José,” based on the Spanish “casarse con” – literally translated as “married with.” They’ll also say “make a party,” a literal translation of the Spanish “hacer una fiesta.”

We also found “semantic calques,” or loan translations of meaning. In Spanish, “carne,” which translates as “meat,” can refer to both all meat, or to beef, a specific kind of meat. We discovered local speakers saying “meat” to refer specifically to “beef” – as in, “I’ll have one meat empanada and two chicken empanadas.”

And then there were “phonetic calques,” or the translation of certain sounds. “Thanks God,” a type of loan translation from “gracias a Dios,” is common in Miami. In this case, speakers analogize the “s” sound at the end of “gracias” and apply it to the English form.

We found that some expressions were used only among the immigrant generation – for example, “throw a photo,” from “tirar una foto,” as a variation of “take a photo.” But other expressions were used among the Miami-born, a group who may be bilingual but speak English as their primary language.

In an experiment, we asked Miamians and people from elsewhere in the U.S. to rate local expressions such as “married with” alongside the nonlocal versions, like “married to.” Both groups deemed the nonlocal versions acceptable. But Miamians rated most of the local expressions significantly more favorably than folks from elsewhere.

Thanks, Ariel and Trevor!


  1. David Marjanović says

    For example, we found people to use expressions such as “get down from the car” instead of “get out of the car.” This is based on the Spanish phrase “bajar del carro,” which translates, for speakers outside of Miami, as “get out of the car.” But “bajar” means “to get down,” so it makes sense that many Miamians think of “exiting” a car in terms of “getting down” and not “getting out.”

    I thought of French descendre before I even saw Spanish was mentioned.

    “throw a photo,” from “tirar una foto,”

    Is that a “phonetic calque” (through Grimm), or does tirar really mean “throw” sometimes?

  2. The primary meaning of tirar is ‘throw.’

  3. Sacar una foto barely makes sense (and the rare English take out a photograph). I can’t imagine how tirar happened.

  4. Rodger C says

    Tirar also means “to pull,” which is what I think when I see tirar una foto.

  5. David Marjanović says

    Not sure why I expected Romance meanings to be more stable than Slavic or Germanic… uh… continental West Germanic ones.

  6. John Cowan says

    Anglophones pull prints, or at least did in the pre-digital age.

  7. Tiro de esquina. More or less a corner shot. Certainly not a corner throw or pull.

    I think of the usage as like English photoshoot.

  8. Shoot! Of course.

  9. For what it’s worth, in Galician (and there were huge waves of Galician emigration to Cuba, like famously Castro’s grandmother) tirar means “to take out”, besides “to throw”, and you can say “tirar unha foto” or “tirar proveito” (to “take out” profit from a situation), “tirar a roupa” (to take your clothes off)… so either that or something similar (it coming from Asturian, or from an older stage of Spanish, though I don’t know if either is true) seems to me like a more plausible explanation.

  10. Yes, the semantic range is broader than throw in Spanish as well. It’s still interesting that bilinguals are translating it as throw in this context. Do some of them connect taking a picture to throwing, or is it just a mechanical translation that stuck?

    You can throw another kind of art — pottery. But I doubt that analogy was available as support for whoever coined this translation.

  11. I just checked a couple of large Spanish dictionaries; here’s the start of the Harper-Collins entry for “tirar 1”:

    (lanzar) to throw; to hurl, fling, cast, sling; (sin querer) to drop; (volcar) to knock over, knock down; edificio to pull down; tiro to fire, shoot; cohete to fire, launch; bomba to drop […]

    You get the general idea.

  12. Keith Ivey says

    Welsh uses tynnu, which means pull, but it also means draw in the artistic sense. So tynnu llun can be taking a photo or drawing a picture. Tynnu also means subtract in math.

  13. @Ryan: The use of throw for crafting (although not pottery making) is actually slightly older than the more common sense related to hurling objects, although the history is a bit peculiar. The OED divides the senses into three groupings:

    I. To twist, to turn; to wrench, warp, contort.
    II. To form, fashion, or shape, esp. by means of a twisting or rotary motion.
    III. To cause to move by means of a sudden or forceful action; spec. to propel through the air by a movement of the hand or arm, and connected uses; to cast, fling, hurl; extended and figurative senses.

    The first group of senses go back to Old English (where the word is attested as both “þrawan” and “ðrawan”), while the other two date to approximately the thirteenth century, although it says that the group II senses only appear as passives or past participles until the late fourteenth century, when the use for specific crafts that involve rotation (wood turning, pottery, rope making, etc.) start to show up.

  14. ktschwarz says

    In English throw and warp have exchanged their primary senses, while their German cognates drehen and werfen have kept the older meanings. (Can’t remember where I learned that; I thought it was here, but can’t find it.)

  15. ktschwarz says

    … oh, there it is, from David Marjanović.

  16. I have no special knowledge and I haven’t investigated it, but perhaps the use of shoot in photography reflects the facts of early photography: a large device was mounted on a tripod, pointed at the subject of the photograph, and then a flash lamp loaded with explosive powder burned in an instant to provide the flash, like the firing of a gun or cannon. The flash lamp was apparently introduced in 1887, but before that, magnesium ribbons were apparently used, and perhaps these were likened to gun fuses (fuzes?)? It would be nice to have a date of first attestation for this idiomatic use of shoot in photography. I don’t have access to the OED at the moment on my phone on the bus.

    This may be a separate question from the use of tirar in Spanish. Is the Spanish calqued on English? Or perhaps it comes from the vocabulary of printing in use at the time of the introduction of photography: taking an image from a woodblock or lithographic plate. From the entry for tirar in DRAE:

    15. tr. Impr. imprimir. Tirar un pliego, un grabado.

  17. OED (entry from 1914):

    22. f. transferred. intransitive and transitive. To take a snapshot (of) with a camera; to photograph (a scene, action, person, etc.) with a cinematographic camera; to take (cinematographic film), to film; occasionally with the actor as subject.

    1890 Internat. Ann. Anthonys Photogr. Bull. 3 Beside him is another sort of shutter operator with an ordinary camera and fairly good shutter… Does he shoot when his companion did?
    1892 Photogr. Ann. II. 51 We at first tried the other method, namely, looking at the object and shooting at the critical moment.
    1896 Punch 30 May 264/2 I even bless the Kodak now With which, dear Nell, you ‘shot’ me.
    1916 ‘B. M. Bower’ Phantom Herd ii. 22 He..debated whether it should be ‘shot’ with two cameras or three.
    1919 Conquest Dec. 70/2 First, the camera man ‘shoots’ on the tank containing the fishes with one half of the lens open.
    1923 Publishers’ Circular 29 Sept. Miss May Edgington’s new novel, ‘Triumph’, is at the present moment being ‘shot’ for film production.
    1927 Daily Tel. 21 June 17/1 Mr. Fox sent the players specially to this country in order to ‘shoot’ as many scenes as possible in the appropriate places.
    1978 J. Krantz Scruples iii. 77 If anyone was going to go down to the Virgin Islands and shoot three models in next year’s was Hank.

  18. ktschwarz says

    To be precise, the OED’s entry from 1914 had the still-camera sense of shoot, with the three quotations from the 1890s; the motion-picture sense was first added in the 1933 Supplement and expanded in the 1986 Supplement with more examples. Almost all the examples after 1914 appear to be motion-picture shooting.

  19. @Xerîb: The OED‘s earliest citations for the photographic sense of shoot are from 1890 and 1892, in publications with readerships of professional photographers. The usage looks like it may already have been well established jargon in the business. The subsequent citations, from more general-interest sources, put “shot” or “shoot” in quotation marks, suggesting it was considered slang or metaphorical, until the quotation marks disappear around 1930.

  20. I imagine the origin of shoot is not as specific as a flash/Mg ribbon, but rather is a metaphor for the general action of pointing a device and pressing a button.

    The OED, under snap-shot, a clear transfer from the gun-related meaning, lists an 1860 quote by John Herschel himself, in Photography News: “…the possibility of taking a photograph, as it were, by a snap-shot—of securing a picture in a tenth of a second of time…” The same magazine (Jul. 13th, p. 127) also has,

    Here let me remark on the advantages, and give photographers a hint of the benefits they would receive, were they to practise rough and bold sketching, the drawing from the object, and round; by that means they would preserve and bring away in their various trips many interesting and effective “bits” that the camera cannot get “a shot at,” as the Egremont Arms worthy used to call it.

  21. ktschwarz says

    “a metaphor for the general action of pointing a device and pressing a button” makes sense to me, and also, the result is determined in a tiny fraction of a second. Photographs weren’t originally instantaneous; the “possibility … of securing a picture in a tenth of a second of time” didn’t become practical until (says Wikipedia) the development of heat-ripened gelatin in 1878, followed by the invention of film and marketing of the Kodak camera beginning in 1888. That would allow enough time for “shoot” and “shot” to become established usage among professionals by 1890, while also explaining why that usage wasn’t common before that, although Herschel foresaw it.

    Here’s an article in The Amateur Photographer, Jan. 8, 1886, by a professional observing that lots of amateurs are trying to take “instantaneous” photos and doing it badly:

    On another day, I came across a painter, with his camera ready to shoot, upon a very dusty roadway, frequented with vehicles of all sorts, and lined and shadowed with heavy trees. He made use of an Aplanatic lens and second stop, and had his instrument directed straight at the middle of the road, patiently waiting for a waggon-load of Bavarian peasants, which he expected to secure en passant at about ten paces’ distant.

  22. Correcting myself: pressing a button, i.e. operating a shutter, was a later invention. With earlier cameras, which used a long exposure time, you uncovered the lens. But the ‘pointing’ part of the shooting metaphor remains.

  23. ktschwarz says

    There’s also the navigational “shooting the sun”, which only has the aiming part of the metaphor: sextants don’t have shutters or triggers.

  24. “Meat or chicken” is also a choice of options you might hear from a waiter or food stall vendor in the Middle East, where it translates lahme vs. djeesh, with “meat” being mostly beef, but occasionally also mutton.

  25. David Marjanović says

    … oh, there it is, from David Marjanović.

    I don’t think I was talking about directions there. In any case, if I was, I shouldn’t have, because werfen means “warp” in some special contexts.

  26. And now Patricia Mazzei reports on it for the NY Times:

    “Miami English is full of these types of expressions, and not only among immigrant speech, where you would expect to find it,” Dr. Carter said. “These expressions get passed down and incorporated into the speech of native English speakers.”

    Andrew Lynch, a linguist at the University of Miami who has conducted research with Dr. Carter, called the argument that Miami English is a dialect — which goes beyond an accent and refers to an all-encompassing way of speaking, including pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary — “a compelling hypothesis.”

    “I’m not entirely convinced that we’re there right now,” Dr. Lynch said. “I think right now we’re more at the stage of a sociolect,” which refers to the way a particular social group speaks.

    White Miamians once spoke more like other white Southerners, pronouncing Miami “Miamah.” That started to change after the 1959 Cuban Revolution as waves of immigrants from Cuba and other Latin American countries moved in, and white non-Hispanics started moving out.

    Those immigrants were largely upper- and middle-class Spanish speakers, which helped establish Spanish as a strong and important language, Dr. Lynch said: “To this day, Miami is the only major urban area in the U.S. where Spanish is not relegated principally in the lower socioeconomic strata.”

    Dr. Carter is an unusual evangelist for Miami English. He was raised in North Carolina and speaks Spanish with a Castilian accent, more Madrid than Miami. Yet his research has drawn praise among South Floridians who feel he has validated their experience.

    Ana Menéndez, a colleague of Dr. Carter’s at Florida International University, who has written about how her generation mixed English and Spanish growing up in the 1980s, said many children of immigrants like her learned a social “pecking order,” with native English speakers at the top, that has loosened over time, much to her relief. (Her own parents, however, emphasized the importance of Spanish and insisted on it at home.)

    “We can be really rigid about the rules,” she said, “but in truth, language is a constantly changing, evolving, dynamic tool that we fit to our purposes.”

    Among the examples of Miami English in pop culture cited by Dr. Carter is a viral video from 2012 titled “Stuff Miami Girls Say … and Guys” — though using more colorful language — that parodies how frequently Miamians say things like “bro,” “irregardless” and “supposably.”

    Thanks, Eric!

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